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Storylines A Plenty As Practice Begins

Sep 26, 2022
Julian Hammond III is guarded by Lawson Lovering on the first day of practice.

The University of Colorado men's basketball team opened official practice for the 2022-23 season on Monday at the CU Events Center, six weeks from the season opener against UC Riverside.

Between now and then, the Buffaloes will have 30 practices where a lot of questions will be answered. How does Colorado replace Evan Battey's leadership? Who will become the leading scorer? Leading rebounder? Are the Buffaloes at a size disadvantage? Who is that "X-Factor?"

Time will tell, but for now an early look at some of those storylines.

Energy & Leadership
Energy and leadership have been key components to the culture the Buffaloes have built over the past five years, in large part due to once-in-a-generation players like Battey and McKinley Wright IV. But for the first time in five years, both are gone. The task going forward is figuring out who will step into those roles.
               
It will be up to the returners to continue to build on that culture and bring along the newcomers. KJ Simpson, a member of the Pac-12 Conference All-Freshman Team a year ago, certainly has the motor and as the point guard should transition into a leadership role.

"Having played with Evan and learning so much from McKinley – I talk to him a lot – I feel like I've learned a lot and absorbing their knowledge, I feel like I'm ready to lead as well as with other guys," Simpson said. "One person doesn't just lead; the whole team can lead. But I feel like my role as a leader has to step up."

Juniors Tristan da Silva, Luke O'Brien and Nique Clifford have the most experience within the Colorado locker room and all three are expecting to have increased roles.
              
The team doesn't have any home-grown seniors, but do have a pair of graduate transfers with plenty of maturity and experience, which leads to:

The Ivy Connection
Guards Jalen Gabbidon and Ethan Wright spent the last few seasons competing against each other for Ivy League championships. Now Gabbidon, a Yale graduate, and Wright, a Princeton graduate, will share the same back court for the first time.
               
Wright was All-Ivy and an NABC All-District 13 Second Team pick as a senior, averaging 14.7 points while shooting 40 percent from 3-point range, helping Princeton to a share of the Ivy League regular season title. Gabbidon helped Yale to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances and was the 2019-20 Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year.

The Class of 2021 Reunion
Colorado's heralded 2021 recruiting class, ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12 and Top 15 nationally, is healthy and ready to have an impact that was somewhat delayed last year. While Simpson and guard Julian Hammond III made significant contributions as true freshmen, Lawson Lovering played limited minutes before a knee injury sidelined him for the final 15 games and Quincy Allen and Javon Ruffin redshirted with injuries.

Lovering is a 7-1 rim protector. His defense is there, and his offense will continue to get better with experience. Allen is arguably the most athletic player on the roster. Ruffin is a good outside shooter that should also help the Buffaloes on the glass.

Speed vs. Size
While the Buffaloes aren't small by any measure, they are having to replace a huge chunk of their front court left by Battey and Jabari Walker. What the Buffaloes may lack in overall size, will be made up with speed and versatility.

Colorado's back court is extremely quick. The roster is also stacked with guys that can play and guard multiple positions, creating matchup nightmares. The Buffaloes like to run, especially at home, and this team has the players to do it.

"I feel like we're quicker than last year," Simpson said. "We lost some size, but we gained some speed, so especially playing at altitude that can be very dangerous. So we're just looking to run."

Rebounding
Defense and rebounding are the pillars of the Colorado program. The Buffaloes will have to replace the Pac-12's leading rebounder in Walker, whose season numbers (310, 9.4 rpg) were double of any other Colorado player.

It would be hard for anyone to equal Walker's individual production, but there are plenty of candidates to increase their loads. Clifford was third on the team last year and is CU's top returner in rebounding at 4.6 per game. Da Silva is Colorado's only other returner that averaged at least three (3.5 rpg).

A healthy Lovering could shoulder some of that load along with J'Vonne Hadley, who averaged 6.2 per game for Indian Hills (Iowa) CC last year, and Allen. Wright is an interesting X-factor. Standing 6-3, he was fourth in the Ivy League in rebounding in 2021-22 at 6.9 per game.

Boyle Countdown
Colorado head coach Tad Boyle enters his 13th season at Colorado with 254 career wins, seven behind Sox Walseth for the most in program history. Walseth was 261-245 in 20 seasons (1956-76).

Reasonable expectations would lead to Boyle reaching that milestone during the nonconference schedule, although it could realistically fall on one of Colorado's two early season Pac-12 games. Game No. 7 is home against Yale on Sunday, Nov. 27 and No. 8 is the league opener at home against Arizona State on Thursday, Dec. 1. Following that, it's at Washington on Sunday, Dec. 4 and Colorado State at the CU Events Center on Thursday, Dec. 8.

Boyle-led teams own nine of the 13 20-win seasons in team history, the top five single-season win totals and six of the top seven. With a record of 254-155 at CU, his 62.1 winning percentage is second all-time just behind Forrest "Frosty" Cox at 62.3 from 1936-50.

Colorado men's basketball season tickets are on sale now, starting at $240 for reserved bench seating. Those looking to purchase online can visit CUBuffs.com/tickets to leave a deposit at this time with a follow up from a member of the CU Athletic Ticket Office sales team. For more information on purchasing season tickets call 303-492-8282.